My decision to try yoga was a gradual one. I tend to have various tension-related aches and pains, especially in my neck, shoulders, and upper back. Emotional stress is also an issue for me. I had heard that yoga could help deal with both physical pains and emotional issues, so I talked to my doctor about it. He agreed that yoga would be a good thing for me to try.
I bought a book on yoga, but I really wanted to take a class. I wanted to take a class because a) it’s hard to be sure if you’re doing it right by just looking at the positions in the book and b) having a class to go to would help ensure that I set that time aside to do it. There are several places in my town that offer yoga. I joined a health club based on the fact that it had a pool, since I also like to swim, and the health club offered yoga classes several times a week.
I ended up first trying a class entitled Bikram’s Beginning Yoga. This turned out to be a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, Bikram fans; it’s a great workout. Anyone who practices it regularly must be in great shape. It’s just that I didn’t realize at the time that there is a BIG difference between a beginning yoga class in general and a Bikram’s Beginning Yoga class. I quickly found out why the guy next to me looked concerned when I mentioned that I had chosen that class because it had the word “beginning” in it. It was in a super heated room, and it was intense. I’d been forewarned about the heat, but not about how intense the workout would be.
It was very hard not to die during this class. At least it seemed that way. My book on yoga had failed to warn me about how difficult Bikram Yoga is. Developed by Bikram Choudhury of India, it’s a 90-minute class in which you do 26 postures which are always the same and in the same order. The postures help develop strength, balance and flexibility, but when you’re starting with poor balance and flexibility, as I was, it’s much harder to do.
I went to a few Bikram classes, but decided it was too unpleasant to continue. Call me lazy, but that’s just how it is. I decided to try the class that met Sunday afternoon instead. This one is taught by a different teacher and, as near as I can tell, it’s a blend of different styles. It’s some type of Hatha Yoga (as is Bikram Yoga), which is the most popular kind. The goal of all types of yoga is enlightenment, but Hatha Yoga focuses on physical discipline rather than the mind or emotions. The belief behind this is that the body has to be purified before higher stages of concentration, meditation, and ecstasy can be achieved.
Anyway, I like the Sunday afternoon class better. It is also 90 minutes in a super heated room, but the workout is less intense. We start out with some breathing exercises and then do sun salutations. After that, we do some of the same postures as in the Bikram class and some different ones. The teacher is good at working with people at different levels; for example, she will explain how to modify postures that might be too difficult for some people.
The best advice I can give for people who want to try a yoga class for the first time is to pick a teacher with whom you are comfortable and listen to your body. You shouldn’t be in pain or extremely uncomfortable while in the postures. If you can’t find a class that is all beginners, pick one where the teacher can help you modify the poses as needed. Small classes are obviously better than large ones so that you can get more individual attention. If you take a “hot yoga” class, bring water, so you can stay well hydrated. You may also want to bring your own yoga mat, though I am cheap and just use one provided by the health club.
Yoga isn’t a quick fix, but if practiced consistently, the benefits are many. I find that it helps me feel less stressed and I have fewer aches and pains from tension since I started practicing yoga. There are many different ways to practice yoga, so you have many choices in finding the right approach for you. For a comprehensive book on yoga to help get you started, consider Yoga for Dummies: A Reference for the Rest of Us, by Georg Feurstein, PhD., and Larry Payne, PhD.